Plato, Tolkien, and Mormonism: The Travels of Cyrus

By October 19, 2015

Ainulindale_by_Alassea_Earello

Ainulindale by Alassea Earello from http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Ainur

To finish my series on inclusive monotheism (see here here here here) and similarities with Plato’s Timaeus, I wanted to look at similarities between Mormon pre-existence narratives and Tolkein’s.

Many have noted the similarities between Mormonism and Tolkien’s creation stories and others have pointed out Platonic elements in Tolkien. A ring of invisibility is mentioned in the Republic and the first phrase of The Silmarillion, “There was Eru the One,” is especially Platonic since “The One” was the highest deity to the Neoplatonists. Tolkien’s Eru or Iluvatar, though aloof like the One, is rather more like Plato’s demiurge in the Timaeus: the God who plans and oversees the creation.

I’ll address the theme of the gods beneath Iluvatar, the Valar, in my next post, but what I wanted to talk about first were the themes of pre-existence and the fall in The Silmarillion. The rebellion and fall of Melkor (Morgoth) and his Balrogs is clearly like Revelation 10:7-9. The books of Moses and Abraham also have these themes but they also have human pre-existence, a theme not found in Tolkien’s creation narrative. However, Tolkien has a second war in heaven and fall that does suggest a kind of pre-existence: the fall of the Noldor. Iluvatar later creates the Elves (then the Men after that) and places them in Middle Earth where the Valar find them and bring them to Valinor, or heaven. They also capture Morgoth and put him in prison. Yet after Morgoth steals Feanor’s Simlmarils and kills his father Finwe (the king of the Noldar) Feanor gets most of the rest of the Noldor to go with him to chase Morgoth to Middle Earth to try to get the Silmarils back. To do so, the Noldor need the Teleri’s (another Elven house) boats and when the Teleri won’t give them the ships, the Noldor take them by force, or what Tolkien calls “the kin slaying.”

So there’s another war in heaven (Valinor) where another third of the host of heaven (the Noldor are one of three Elven houses) are cast down to earth (or they cast themselves). So whereas the fall of Morgoth and his Balrogs is like the fall of the devil and his angels, the fall of the Noldor is a bit more like pre-existent humans coming to earth from heaven (Morgoth is totally bad, the Noldor and a mix of good and bad).

Plato has pre-mortal beings coming to earth, but no devil. Andrew Michael Ramey in his very popular The Travels of Cyrus (a book with a lot of Mormon-sounding stuff) combined Christian and Platonic themes in a handful of creation myths. In the book, Cyrus, the king of the Persians, visits many of the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean nations to learn about religions and politics. All tell him their cosmogonies about a high god with a wife and son and then some sort of angelic rebellion that caused pre-mortal beings to be cast to earth.

The cosmogony that looks most like Tolkien’s is that of the Jews, told to Cyrus by the priest Eleazar who’s exiled with Daniel in Babylon. Eleazar tells Cyrus of the Jew’s one God who “created diverse orders of intelligences to make them happy.” Eleazar then explains that “Two sorts of spirits lost their happiness by their disloyalty; the one, called cherubim, were of a superior order, and are now infernal spirits; the other, called ischim, were of a less perfect nature; these are the souls which actually inhabit mortal bodies.” Like Tolkien, two groups fell: the superior one became “infernal spirits” and the lesser one became mortals (yes Elves aren’t mortal like Men, but they are still lesser than the Ainur.) Like Tolkien, the rebellion was led by “the chief of the cherubim” (or Ainur, Morgoth) and like Tolkien, the two groups fell for different reasons: “The ichim became too much attached to material objects, and in the enjoyment of created pleasures forgot the supreme beatitude of spirits; the first were too much elated with pride, the second debased themselves by sensuality.”[1] Morgoth falls because of pride, Feanor and the Noldor because of “material objects”: the silmarils.

 

[1] Chevalier (Andrew Michael) Ramsay, Travels of Cyrus: To Which is Annexed, A Discourse upon the Theology and Mythology of the Pagans (1727; Albany: Pratt and Doubleday, 1814), 290-92.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. You know it’s going to be a good day when you see the words Tolkien and Mormonism combined in one blog post. Thanks, Steven.

    Comment by Saskia — October 19, 2015 @ 1:07 pm

  2. Thanks, Saskia. I’m probably revealing what my research is REALLY all about.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 19, 2015 @ 1:51 pm

  3. This is easily the geekiest post I’ve ever read! 😉

    It seems to me that inclusive monotheism is the exact opposite of Ostler’s model wherein a council of gods select and set apart one god “for us”. Would this make his model “exclusive polytheism”?

    Comment by Jeff G — October 19, 2015 @ 6:25 pm

  4. Yes, always happy to let my true geekiness show.

    The line of the Sermon at the Grove is really interesting: “the heads of the Gods appointed one God for us.” What to call that I’m not sure but I’ll have some more comparisons in my next post.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 19, 2015 @ 10:07 pm

  5. On second thought, looking over my notes for what I was planning for a second post was a little different than I remembered, so I’m just going to have this be the only one.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 20, 2015 @ 10:27 am

  6. Not acceptable. We demand a trilogy of posts.

    Comment by Dave — October 21, 2015 @ 6:28 pm

  7. Thanks Dave. I’ll probably put something else up in a few weeks (things are kind of hectic right now).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 21, 2015 @ 6:57 pm

  8. I compared Tolkien’s world to the Old Testament here , and brought some nerdy commenters out of the woodwork. My Tolkien lore is weak.

    Comment by Ben S — October 22, 2015 @ 4:36 pm

  9. Thanks for the link, Ben. We Mormons and bloggernacle types tend to have a lot of fun with this stuff.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 23, 2015 @ 8:21 am


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